Creative + Co-Pilot

What I've Learned From Teaching as an Adjunct Professor This Year

When You Should Say No to Dream Projects...


Sometimes the allure of a dream project can put blinders on creatives. We look to the prestige of the end result and not the dismay that can result from the process of working with a shitty client. Regardless of your excitement about the work, a dream project can very easily turn foul if you have not done your research.

I've assembled some questions to help gauge where clients fall in the scheme of "healthy working relationships."

  1. First off, does this "client" want work for free? Working for free on a "dream project" sets your value at nil. Don't go into the relationship thinking that they will start to pay you once they become a bit more successful. It rarely ever works that way. You will eventually resent something you love, and that's a horrible feeling. The client will under appreciate the process and the work as well. It's a lose/lose. 

    The initial rate you set will be the basis of any later rates. Set your value at a respectable level and don't skimp yourself, it keeps you from being profitable and keeps expectations for others in our profession at an unhealthy place.
  2. Has this "dream client" contracted more than one designer in the last year? What is it about this client that has them using 3 different designers in a 6 month period of time? Why couldn't they find a designer to work consistently with them? That is what we call a red flag. Recently I put in bids on potential jobs for some wine and spirits packaging in Tennessee, only to find out 3 of my colleagues had already worked on different projects with them....and it was a nightmare for each. I'm not saying go into every dream project with skepticism. I'm saying that if you ask the right questions from the get-go, you can save yourself some heartache.
  3. Does the client value your work? If a "dream client" says your prices are too high, then they are. Clients will pay what it's worth to them, not always what it's worth to you. If you can find a client that appreciates the work you do and values it as such, hold on to them. That mutual respect of your craft and the importance of it's role in their business is fertile ground for building a great relationship. I've worked with a local cigar company creating packaging for almost 2 years, and from the moment we worked on our first project I knew not only would I be compensated respectably, but that they would enable me to make some of my best work for them. It's a formula for success for the client and yourself.

Don't be scared to say no to dream projects. It is true, it's a slow steady grind. Nothing happens overnight, but don't lose hope when a "dream project" doesn't work out. There are plenty to come in the future as long as you aren't as asshole and you stay devoted to the hustle. 

Stephen Jones